Reviewed by Helyce
Idyllic summers spent at the lake house were the norm for the Hempstead sisters, until a tragedy forever changed the lives of sisters, Jo and Louise and subsequently, the lives of their daughters.
Carr starts this somewhat complicated and emotional rollercoaster in the present with focus on the grown daughters of Jo and Louise Hemstead. Charlene or Charley, has just lost her job as a television personality and it’s made her question and contemplate her life on many levels. Having identified herself with her tv persona she’s struggling to just be Charley. If that wasn’t enough, her long time partner, Michael, has thrown her for a loop by asking her to marry him after something like 20 years together. On top of that, her sister Megan is dealing with stage four breast cancer and it’s not looking good. Charley decides to visit her sister now that she has all this time on her hands. It’s clear that Megan is not doing well, so when she demands that they get together and go to the lake house where they had shared so many wonderful summers, Charley makes it her mission to accomplish this goal for her sister Megan, knowing in her heart that Megan doesn’t have much time.
Charley heads up to the lake, secures contractors and with the help of a local agent to oversee minor renovations, she gives the house a good cleaning, purchases beds, linens and sofas in record time so that they can open up the house and spend the summer there. She can’t believe how smoothly everything goes and actually begins to look forward to this time with Megan and this time away from Michael.
Unbeknownst to Charley, Megan has contacted all her cousins, mother and aunt, and her grandmother to let them know that they are opening up the lake house and would love it if everyone would come for a visit. This is met with everything from pure disgust to delight between the members of the family featured. We get an interesting perspective as Carr introduces each additional character:
Hope, Charley and Megan’s cousin definitely suffers from some form of mental illness. She’s divorced, but “pretends” she’s still married to her ex, Franklin. She lives in a world of her own creating where everything is perfect and her ex hasn’t been remarried for over two years and has a child with wife #2. Her daughters from her marriage to Franklin, have chosen to live with their dad because their mother is a complete whackadoodle.
Krista, Hope’s younger sister, who has been in jail for 20 plus years for murder. She’s released on parole and shows up at the lake. Her family welcomes her with open arms, but in many ways Krista has the most adjusting to do.
Beverly, Hope and Krista’s youngest sister, grew up with a foster family after the tragic loss of her cousin Bunny. They’d been the two youngest of the girls and best of friends. Growing up with a foster family, she seems to have escaped the issues of her sisters. She’s happily married, lives on a farm and is raising her two children.
Lastly, Bunny, who drowned in the lake at age 12 that fateful summer. She was only a small part of the catalyst that changed each family member that summer.
Once the characters are introduced, and the reader has an idea of the players, Carr slowly unravels the mystery and delves into the lives of the sisters, cousins, mother and aunt who were irrevocably changed. But Bunny’s death was really only a small part of what happened that summer. An even bigger secret is revealed to explain the distance between Jo and Lou that was only compounded by Bunny’s death. Years and years wasted between sisters who were always so close, spurned on by guilt and fear. It took Megan’s illness, and her imminent death, to bring them together again so that what really happened that summer could be explained and relationships healed with forgiveness.
For the most part, I enjoyed this book. Carr is brilliant at extracting true emotions from the reader and I always seem to build some sort of attachment to the people in her books while reading them. I found Charley to be a character of focus though the story is about the family as a whole and the incidents of that summer. I felt she kind of ran the show, so to speak. I was most intrigued by Krista who made some very poor choices in her late teens, which landed her in jail. When she gets out, she is determined to do everything right and I felt her determination. I couldn’t imagine going into jail so young, and then coming out 20 plus years later and having to adapt to everything, i.e., technology and such. At the same time I don’t think there was enough information on Beverly and why she ended up in foster care in which she stayed and was never returned to her mother, though she knew of her and her sisters. I was a bit underwhelmed by the incident involving the sisters. Though it was serious, and I could understand why they handled it the way they did, it didn’t make sense to me that it would tear them apart. These women had children, and though one was lost, the five that remained still needed their mothers. Sadly, they were all left to flounder.
I’m a long time fan of Robyn Carr. Her Virgin River series is probably my all time favorite contemporary series. Her stories never fail to draw me in and hold me through to the last page. Even the long running series when it would begin to feel like a “been there, done that” scenario; the writing and characters were enough to keep me invested. With this book, I had that same satisfaction – though this cast was probably the largest and most complex that I’ve read in a while. And as I’ve come to expect, Carr brings this story full circle and does not disappoint.